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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Sherryl Clark In The West!

Yesterday we had our YABBA Ambassador visit. Sherryl Clark spoke to the Year 7 and 8 students and some older ones who came because they were in my book club and wanted to hear her. Some had been reading the books I bought in advance of the visit although nobody actually asked specific questions related to the books they had read and the girl who had asked me if she could ask questions then was too shy to speak them herself, so wrote them down for me to ask on her behalf. But they,too, were general questions. One of my book clubbers couldn't make it due to SRC commitments, but met us in the hallway and told Sherryl how much she had enjoyed the book she'd read.

It was a hectic day for me. I had some drama in my literacy class, felt bad about it and went to seek the child I had upset. Then I rushed to the canteen, which had prepared lunch for me and my guest. Then I hung around, panicking when she was a tiny bit late. What if she had got the dates confused? What if...? I think it was my nerves.

But she turned up a minute later and all went well. She talked about her books and dear me, hasn't she written a huge variety of genres, from short humorous books for younger readers to verse novels and fantasy mysteries for teens. Apparently, her bestseller is her first book, The Too Tight Tutu, which is based on her own experiences as an overweight child doing ballet lessons. With some of her books she has bought back the rights and self published because there was still demand for them but the publishers weren't interested in keeping them in print.

There were some quite good questions from Year 7 and I invited Sherryl to choose a couple of students to receive copies of her books as a reward for the best. I usually do that as an encouragement to get them started, but it wasn't necessary this time, which was nice. You know, nobody wants to be first? Not a problem this time. 

After lunch, we returned to the library, where the Year 8 students were even better, and I have to say I was pleased and relieved. We have a lot of difficult students in this year's Year 8 and apart from one or two, whose teachers took them away from the others, they were really very good and asked some great questions, including some of the most difficult students of the lot! In fact, two of the three prizes went to some of our harder-to-handle boys. One of them was so chuffed he showed off his book to the sub school leader who has given him many a detention.

After the session I had students asking to borrow some of Sherryl's books, which I had on a display. Some were out, but others were grabbed.

A successful event all round. Pity I couldn't even get a reply from the local press, but then, for them it's just another ho-hum author-visits-school event, big deal, it happens all the time. I did explain it was a special program run by YABBA, for only twenty-five schools, but no interest.

It's not a ho-hum thing for us. When I first arrived at the school, we had an annual writers' festival. The Principal gave us $2000 for inviting writers to speak. Not a lot, but enough for each campus to have someone, and we supplemented it with free visits from myself and Chris Wheat, my colleague who has written five YA novels. That was a principal who respected us and what we did. There was a college head of library.

Now my budget is half what it was back in the 90s and no college writers' festival. We just don't have the money to bring in guest speakers, so having a freebie like this means a lot to us and our students.

I hate that I can't do more, but never mind, it was a great day, if exhausting. Thank you, Sherryl, and especially thanks, YABBA, for paying for this! 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Two Tales Of Twins From Ancient Greece And Rome By Ursula Dubosarsky. Armidale, Christmas Press, 2014


This is the third publication by Christmas Press, and just as beautiful as the others. Like the first two, Two Trickster Tales From Russia by Sophie Masson and Two Selkie Stories From Scotland by Kate Forsyth, it's written by a respected veteran writer of Australan children's books. 

Unlike the first two, it's taken from mythology rather than folk tales and mythology is different. It can get nasty. More kudos, then, to Ursula Dubsarsky for managing to adapt stories about characters who in the original myths were not particularly sympathetic, for children! The two stories are about the childhood of Apollo and Artemis and that of Romulus and Remus. It does have to admit that the story of the twins who founded Rome is not one with a very happy ending, but manages to avoid telling the young reader that Romulus murdered his brother. For the Romans, it was terribly important, the story of their founding, and the killing was just a part of it. Myth and legend can be nasty, simple as that.

The art by David Allan is gorgeous, well worth the price of the book, even if it weren't for the stories.

Read it to your young children or let the slightly older ones read it for themselves.

Recommended!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

July 27 Meme - Happy Birthday, Huguette!

Today is July 27 south of the equator, no matter what date you see above this post( Blogger is a northern hemisphere thing). And today is the birthday of my sister's best friend, Huguette, so it seemed a good day to do a meme. 

Lean pickings in the events, as far as a book blog is concerned. Lots of battles and disasters, of course, and unpleasant things such as Vincent Van Gogh committing suicide. And to stretch a point, the hero of the Scottish Play lost a battle on this day, to Siward of Northumbria. Well, if Shakespeare could write about him, I can mention him in a book meme.

Born on this day was Alexandre Dumas fils - not the author of The Three Musketeers, that was his Dad, but he wrote lots of plays and The Lady Of The Camellias, novel and play, which became a film(Camille), an opera(La Traviata by Verdi) and a musical film(Moulin Rouge - yes, that Moulin Rouge)

Also Hilaire Belloq, who wrote all those very funny Cautionary Tales for children. 

And I'm going to stretch another point and include Simon Jones, the original and best Arthur Dent(sorry,Martin  Freeman, though it did make it easier for me to accept you as Bilbo Baggins) in Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.

There were a couple of writers I'd never heard of. One of them, Joseph Mitchell, I'm going to mention because he is also a character in a computer game! 

And in Finland, July 27 is National Sleepyhead Day, in which it's traditional to throw water over the last person out of bed, or throw them into a lake or the sea! Sometimes, if it's a man, he gets the left side of his chest shaved. (Obviously women don't have hairy chests) Every year in the Finnish city of Naantali they throw a celebrity into the sea. 

Believe it or not, this bit of silly fun is connected with the story of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, who snoozed away a couple of hundred years in a cave during the persecution of Christians, woke up during a Christian era and promptly dropped dead as soon as they'd found out it was okay to be Christians. Apparently, there's also a Muslim version. Obviously a story with an old heritage, might be interesting to see where it originally came from.

Well, better get up before the family arrive to throw me off St Kilda pier.

Still More Ebooks This Week! The Wake By Paul Kingsnorth

Last night I downloaded Paul Kingsnorth's debut novel The Wake, which is on the long list for this year's Man Booker Prize. I'm not really into literary fiction, but this is also genre fiction, which I do love. It's set in 1066(and all that, okay, it STARTS in 1066) and is not about celebrating a dead person's life but about a rebellion in the fens country against the newly arrived Normans. It happened. The story of Hereward's rebellion is a part of history, though it's been fictionalised a lot. Actually, there was a wonderful, beautiful novel, Saxon Tapestry, by Sile Rice, which I read while playing mediaeval church music to get me in the mood.

But this is different. I've only started reading, but the novel is in Old English - sort of. Even the author admits he had to play around with it or it would be even harder to read than it is. He cals it a "shadw language" that gives you the feel of the real thing.

Now, I did a semester of OE at uni, though I ended up focusing on Middle English because you couldn't do both and I was interested in doing my Honours thesis on King Arthur and Malory wrote in ME, not OE. I was quite good at it in the limited amount I did, because I had a background in Yiddish, which is related to mediaeval German, which is related to OE. So I'll manage this book a lot more easily than the average Joe or Josephine and even I'm going to take a while  to finish it. 

That said, I've found through reading it aloud that the general text and the dialogue is basically in modern English without the slang. If it wasn't using OE names and spelling for things, it really wouldn't be too hard, so stick with it. You'll get the hang of it. I'd suggest the ebook version, as the publisher has, I believe, done it as a manuscript between stiff cardboard covers and when you just want to read a book on the way in to work, that could be a nuisance. But up to you. 

It is, anyway, a brave experiment by the author. He could have sold it to a regular publisher if he'd just written it in modern style but he refused to change it and ended up instead going with a small press, Unbound, that has the policy of asking the author to crowd fund his or her book. He managed to get 400 pre-orders and here he is, up for a huge prize! Clearly his faith in his book as it was worked out. 

 I don't blame him, anyway; it must have taken a HUGE amount of research to get this done, not to mention getting the style just right. No convenient spell or grammar check on the computer - actually, you'd have to turn it off or go crazy.

Good luck to him!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Look What I've Got From Christmas Press!


Here it is, the latest beautiful picture storybook from Christmas Press, another Aussie small press, which does lovingly-crafted books only a couple of times a year, but worth waiting for.

This one is written by well-known children's and YA novelist Ursula Dubosarsky and illustrated by the amazing David Allan. YESSS!

I'll be reviewing it shortly, as it comes out in early August, but couldn't resist sharing this with you.

I know what the next book is - a collection of Christmas-themed children's stories - because I have a tale in it myself, a story set in Australia in a world where Armorique, the setting of Wolfborn, exists and can be looked up on Google. :-) I have recently realised, though, that I forgot the triple moons, so it isn't the same world as Wolfborn, exactly... Oh, well.
Anyway, look out for my review of Two Tales Of Twins, coming soon!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

I'm Interviewed By ... N! (From Gillian Polack's Livejournal)


Some time ago, I had an email from Gillian Polack, uni academic, spec fic writer and historian, whose work experience student, whom she referred to only as N had read and loved Wolfborn. Would I be willing to do an interview with the young lady? What do YOU think? :-)

It was duly published on Gillian's Livejournal and I'm reproducing it here, because Livejournal is a much more intimate form of blog which is really for the author and friends. 

So here are the three questions she asked.


NAre the traditions and festivals used in Wolfborn based on existing religions? For example, when Lord Geraint performed the rites.

SB: Yes, sort of. Notzrianism, the main religion, is my own version of Christianity, though not quite - you may have noticed I have a female bishop in one scene. But you can't do a mediaeval fantasy set in a European-style world without some form of Christianity.  So much of mediaeval daily life and culture was based on it. The way people thought and behaved, even their hierarchy, was based on their faith. 

In my world, though, there's also a strong pagan element still around, tolerated if not liked. The celebration of such rites would almost certainly have been tamed quite a lot in a country that was otherwise Christian(or Notzrian). I mostly invented the rituals described, but not the festivals. The Celtic calendar had four major celebrations in the year and I used that. I assumed that local celebrations would vary.  There would have been some interesting things happening at local celebrations, even in Christian times. 

I did a short course on Celtic religions once and the teacher, a middle-European lady, I can't recall from which country, remembered her childhood when the local villages worshipped, more or less, their own statues of "Our Lady" who was, as far as they were concerned, just another version of "THE Lady", the mother goddess. They were Catholics, yes, but also,deep-down, had never stopped worshipping the Goddess. And this was well into the twentieth century! 

N: Is the castle based off any historical land marks? For example the landscape around it and its strategic positioning.

Nope. It's just a place that says "mediaeval daily life". Strictly speaking, a lord like Geraint would probably be moving around his manors, but I left him in one place, with my own choice of geography. It made it easier to have things happen as I needed them to. This is also why I created my own world, with three moons and all,  instead of setting it in mediaeval Europe.

NDo the kingdoms in Wolfborn embody countries of the era?

Yes, a bit, eg the Djarnish Isles, mentioned by Lady Eglantine, are sort of Britain, although the women's community she describes, in which the members get to do learned stuff, was  based on the community of Hildegard of Bingen, an amazingly multi-talented eleventh century German abbess, now a saint, I believe. Armorique is sort of, but not quite, Brittany, because the story was taken from the Breton Lais by Marie De France, but I introduced gods from other parts of the Celtic world and gave it its own history(I'm working on a novel set earlier in that history). Nearly everyone, I admit, has a French name(but "Geraint" is Welsh - I just liked the name, which is part of Celtic literature. For consistency, I shouldn't have done it, but I did. So sue me). However, some countries mentioned in this novel were from a world I created for a series of swords and sorcery stories about the adventures of a woman warrior named Xanthia, published back in the 80s in a fantasy magazine called Eye Of Newt, well BEFORE a certain TV series with a similar name. As for the era, it's vaguely 12th century. 

Please note: I admit I cherry picked what I wanted in my world building, but whatever sins I committed, I did my research. I read whole books on daily life, the role of women, cities, folklore, you name it! 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Space...The Final Frontier.. Apollo II This Week In History!

If you haven't seen this pic,
you've been living under a rock!


This isn't really a book-related post, but as I've said before, I came to love science fiction because of the "sensawunda" thing. I dreamed of going to the moon from early days, played "moon-landing" with my friends and loved Star Trek from the first episode I saw. (As it happens, I even know what Trek episode was on the week of the moon landing, because I read the TV guide in the microfilm newspapers  at the State Library when researching for my short story "Countdown To Apollo 11". The episode was "The Enterprise Incident". There was no Dr Who, as it was off for a while.

This week is the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11. It's rather sad that all that excitement and wonder should have ended with the US space shuttles having to be retired and nothing being done for the moment, at least nothing immediate. 

Of the three astronauts who went to the moon, my favourite is Michael Collins, the one who didn't actually step on to the moon and was fine with that. He said that thousands would have given a lot to be in his place and that, as far as he was concerned, it was about flying and he had the best job of any pilot, ever!

He produced a number of books that were not ghost written - he said so and I believe him. His autobiography Carrying The Fire, has that true sensawunda you get in the best SF and yet was for real. I used that and his history of the space program while researching my own book, Star Walkers: Explorers Of The Unknown. Star Walkers sold out years ago and wasn't reprinted, so if you want to read it, you'll have to get it on eBay or ABE Books, but I used a lot of the information by and about him to help me.

Buzz Aldrin has at least one novel with his name on it, in which the hero is involved in a private space program, something Aldrin has always promoted, and with all those recent space program cutbacks, maybe he's right.

I have memories of the moon landing, because they let us go home from school to watch it. If it was now, we'd all be gathered in the school library or a hall - funnily enough my own school didn't have a hall and neither does the one where I work now - and the info tech teacher would set up a link to the Internet so we could watch it as a school.

I wasn't a great reader of SF till after my school days were over and I was babysitting for my sister and raiding her shelves, but I did read some of the classics by Verne and Wells. It's interesting to compare what the two of them had to say about moon flight. Jules Verne had his moon trip beginning in Florida and thought carefully about how it might work, whereas Wells just had some made-up stuff to make his spacecraft float. I think that after Wells was rude about the Verne book,Verne actually said something along those lines, that at least he'd done his homework instead of just making up something out of his head. But Verne really was a science fiction writer,  while Wells was more interested in politics and social justice, even if he used SF to talk about them.

There isn't a lot of written, as opposed to film, fiction bout Apollo II, as far as I know, though it is a part of Stephen Baxter's wonderful novel Voyage, which speculates what might have happened if the US had gone for Mars instead of the space shuttle. The heroine becomes the first person to walk on Mars.

Well, what do you know, I HAVE written about books in this post!

So before I go, here's a photo taken in Sydney at Mascot Airport on July 21 1969, which I found under the Creative Commons licences, from the days when there used to be TVs in shop windows. Enjoy!


Friday, July 18, 2014

Downloaded This Week... Lots Of Classic SF And A Children's Book About The Great War...

I get this craving for classic SF by famous writers from the Golden Age, you know?  I just do.

Oddly, it started with a search for Darrell Schweitzer, who is very much alive and kicking and has a gorgeous steampunk poem in my issue of ASIM, #60, illustrated by the wonderful Lewis Morley, who loved it. Turns out he's in some of  the Megapacks available on iBooks because they have a mixture of Golden Age and contemporary SF. There's even a story in #6 by Pamela Sargent about Hillary Rodham - yes, THAT Hillary Rodham, Mrs Clinton - as an astronaut, based on a story she told about having sent an inquiry to NASA in her teens and been told "girls need not apply"(something they deny, saying that while girls were not in the space program at the time, they wouldn't have said "don't bother", just told the young woman to work hard at school and keep an eye out because it would happen at some stage). It's asking "what if"?  Hillary the astronaut is on her way to Venus with an all-woman team, including Judy Resnik and Jerrie Cobb(Resnik was the first Jewish woman in space, Cobb was one of the Forgotten Thirteen, women who wanted to become astronauts in the 60s and were told to go away. Perhaps it would have been better for her if she'd been a teenager writing to NASA instead of a skilled pilot!)

Anyway, I downloaded Megapack 6, which had some good stuff in it, including one by Philip K Dick and Arthur C Clarke's classic "The Nine Billion Names Of God", a story not in the Clarke collection I bought from Amazon with my prize gift voucher. These Megapacks are great value, costing the massive sum of 99c! And there are quite a lot of genres. I'd been looking for Mack Reynolds, a prolific writer who died in the 70s. Mack Reynolds wrote the very first original Star Trek novel, Mission To Horatius, before James Blish's Spock Must Die! It doesn't get much publicity, probably because it was for children. I bet it would be worth $$$$ on eBay now. I had read several of his novels, starting with Time Gladiator, which I found on a remainders table for 20c. It had a dreadful cover and title, but as it was SF I picked it up, browsed through and decided that for 20c it wasn't much of a risk. It was so very good I went in search of more. One of them featured a man who was attached to a computer that sent him into the mind of Horatius, that hero of the Roman Republic who guarded the bridge into Rome against the enemy with two comrades while others were busy cutting it down. Another predicted the current situation with credit cards replacing cash. In this society there's no cash at all, just cards, so if you're on the run, as the hero of that novel is, you can easily be traced by your card use. This was in the 70s!

I did find some of his books available online, but got a sudden craving for Fredric Brown and decided Reynolds could wait just a little longer. If you're a Trek fan, you'll know one of Brown's stories, "Arena", was adapted for an episode of the name. I'd read plenty of his tales, including "Arena". They tend to be quirky and often funny. And there was a Fredric Brown Megapack! With no fewer than 33 of his classic stories, including "Arena"! For 99c! I also bought from SF Gateway his novel What Mad Universe in which a pulp magazine editor finds himself thrown into a universe in which pulp fiction tropes are true. I'd read and loved it years ago and had to have it in ebook. I've reread it and loved it again.

And finally, this week, I discovered that there was a new book by Morris Gleitzman, a popular writer in my library. This one is called Loyal Creatures and is about a boy and his horse going to the Great War. A wonderful writer. Knowing what I do about what happened to the horses that went to war from Australia I don't hold out great hopes for a happy ending, but I refuse to read the end till I get there.

A fine haul. What are you reading, my readers?

As Stars Fall By Christie Nieman. Sydney: Pan Macmillan, 2014

A bush fire, and its aftermath, links a Bush-Stone curlew and three teenagers experiencing loss, love and change.

The fire was fast and hot ... only days after it went through, there were absolutely no birds left. I should have seen it as an omen, the birds all leaving like that.

Robin is a self-confessed bird-nerd from the country, living in the city. On the first day at her new school, she meets Delia. Delia is freaky and definitely not good for Robin's image.

Seth, Delia's brother, has given up school to prowl the city streets. He is angry at everything, especially the fire that killed his mother.

When a rare and endangered bird turns up in the city parklands, the lives of Robin, Seth and Delia become fatefully and dangerously intertwined ...

Their lives certainly are intertwined. Seth and Delia are the children of the biologist who was killed observing a rare Bush-Stone Curlew. Robin was living in the area at the time and saw the bushfire. Her parents separated soon after for reasons we find out later. 

And Robin has a strange connection with Seth, who can see things through her eyes as well as the bird's.

Fire plays an important role in this novel - the bushfire that killed Seth and Delia's mother and brought the bird to the city, the fire with which Seth deliberately burns his hand in horrified fascination while grieving, Robin's nickname, Flame. Even the book's title, As Stars Fall, refers to sparks falling during the fire, which Robin saw on the night and thought beautiful despite the significance of them. The environment is also a major element and some of it is notes by Selena, the biologist mother, who had strong opinions about the cycle of life in the bush.

It's a sad but positive story, an interesting mixture of  mainstream YA and fantasy. The story is about coming to terms with grief, but it wouldn't have been quite the same without those touches of fantasy.

I can see this one working well in classroom discussion, perhaps as a literature circles text; there's a lot of meat for discussion. It's aimed at older readers and really is best for good readers who like to think deeply about what they read.